Electronics: The Next Frontier in Sustainability

Mathy Stanislaus Mathy Stanislaus

By: Mathy Stanislaus

Last year was quite a year for the Office of Land and Emergency Management. October marked the 40th anniversary of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, and we have been taking stock of our success managing our materials and waste, and discussing where we need to head in the future. In addition, we have worked continuously to advance Sustainable Materials Management (SMM) and life cycle thinking. Recent analysis concludes that global raw materials use is accelerating to a point of creating economic risks, along with increasing environmental consequences such as greenhouse gas emissions. As the U.S. Government’s representative to the G7 Alliance on Resource Efficiency, I have championed SMM to make life cycle thinking ubiquitous throughout a product’s supply chain. This includes manufacturing, transportation use, and end of life management to get the most out of the materials we use. A perfect example of SMM in action in the U.S. today is the design and management of electronics.

The Electronics Lifecycle

The Electronics Lifecycle

In 2012, the Sustainable Materials Management Electronics Challenge was launched under the National Strategy for Electronics Stewardship (NSES). The Challenge encourages electronics manufacturers, brand owners and retailers to strive to send 100 percent of the used electronics they collect from the public, businesses and within their own organizations to third-party certified electronics refurbishers and recyclers.

Graphic displaying the total benefits of Electronics Challenge participants

By EPA publically acknowledging their efforts and achievements, we amplify the message of the safe management of electronics across their life cycle and inspire the electronics industry and other sectors with transferrable best practices.

Through source reduction, designing with environmental awareness, responsible recycling, and outreach, our Challenge participants – Best Buy; Dell Inc.; LG Electronics, USA; Samsung Electronics Co.; Sony Electronics, Inc.; Sprint; Staples; and VIZIO, Inc. – have made significant environmental contributions.

Electronic products are a global economic driver, with supply chains reaching around the world. Like so many products on the market, today’s electronics are made from valuable resources and highly engineered materials, like precious metals, plastics, and glass. If not properly managed, some of the materials in our electronics may pose a risk to human health and the environment. By designing with the environment in mind and through a life-cycle lens, toxic materials can be designed out of the product and the product can be made to be more readily repairable and reusable, extending its life and facilitating recycling.

Dell and Samsung have innovated in their industry sectors with this principle in mind. Dell is a 2016 Champion for their use of post-industrial recycled (PIR) carbon filled polycarbonate in a new line of laptops, the first laptop to use this material. By using PIR material, Dell kept 170,000 pounds of carbon fiber from being landfilled in 2015. Samsung is a 2016 Champion for their Cadmium-free Quantum Dot ultra-high definition televisions (HDTV), also an industry first. The resulting TVs are free of cadmium – a hazardous heavy metal – and use less materials and energy than other HDTVs, with properties that allow for better light efficiency and improved durability. This allows the display to be kept at peak quality for years, delaying end-of-life management decisions.

Since the Challenge was launched, our participants collectively have sent nearly 950,000 tons of electronics to certified recyclers, which is equivalent to powering over 334,072 homes with electricity for one year or diverting over 717,900 tons of waste from landfills! Staples is a 2016 Champion for their innovative outreach and public education initiative, which reached over 6 million consumers with information on their Technology Recycling Program. Through their efforts, Staples attained a significant increase in the tons collected per store from 2014 to 2015 and then ensured that 100% of the e-waste collected from consumers was sent to a certified recycler.

The SMM Electronics Challenge is about much more than electronics recycling. In addition to rewarding significant recycling efforts, we also give out the Champion Awards, which honor our participants for using life cycle thinking in designing their products and promoting this thinking through outreach programs aimed at consumers. The products and programs recognized by these awards are real-world examples of SMM in action. You can learn more about previous and our current champion award winners here.

I am exceptionally proud of the successes the Electronics Challenge participants this year and the hard work of my staff for keeping the momentum going. In addition to recognizing the great work of our Challenge participants it’s also important that we use this moment to encourage other businesses in their sustainability programs to model the substantial commitment and deliver the same outstanding results that our Challenge participants have produced.   Some might even want to step up and join our Electronics Challenge program; we would welcome your participation.

To honor the achievements of our participants and broaden our message to the electronics community, I am thrilled that we are partnering with the Consumer Technology Association (CTA) for the awards ceremony. The ceremony will be held on January 7, 2017, on the Consumer Technology Association (CTA) stage at the 2017 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, NV. CTA and EPA will also be co-hosting a panel discussion where we will have a robust dialogue with our stakeholders and participants. The actions of today influence our tomorrow, so let me once again congratulate our 2016 Electronics Challenge participants!

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

A Brooklyn Experience | eCycling

By Linda Longo

If you’re anything like me, you’ve accumulated – over the course of time – all sorts of electronic “junk.”  I’m talking about transistor radios from those 70’s beach days, beepers, cell phones, an old black and white TV perhaps or, at the least, a pre-flat screen. Throw in some household items like a malfunctioning toaster, a broken blender and miscellaneous batteries, and you know what I mean.

In my small Brooklyn apartment closet sat a bulging bag of miscellaneous electronics and related “stuff” just waiting to be recycled.   My husband would ask why I don’t just take this bag into work since I work at EPA for ‘crying out loud.’  I’d tell him that my office is an office just like his and we do periodic cleanups and recycling events, but I often miss the opportunity – and, who wants to schlep all this stuff on the subway and into Manhattan? Recycling happens at the local, community level anyway. Right?

Ella at Best Buy eCycling station

I promised him this bag will be gone the next time I see an electronic recycling event conveniently located within blocks of our apartment.  That never happened. Finally, after growing tired of his prodding and my procrastinating, I decided to act. Last weekend, on a mission to Best Buy for new electronics, I decided to check on whether they took some of this electronic waste. A quick glance at their web site told me they did, but it was unclear about the toaster and the old lamp buried at the bottom of my bag.  We hauled our oddities into Best Buy at Brooklyn’s Atlantic Terminal and sure enough they took everything – lamp and all!  The area for drop off was right in the entrance.  The staffer on duty told me the items don’t even have to be one of their products.  Someone before me had dropped off a monstrous TV – the kind ‘back in the day’ before flat screens.  They placed green stickers on my items to show that these are not waiting for repair, but rather for recycling.  She told me that, in this particular store, on average about 10 people drop off electronics each day and they are the stuff is taken into the back room, sorted by staff for pick up from an outside electronics recycling company.   I left the store with a feeling of accomplishment for doing the right thing and not tossing my old toaster into the trash; which would have been so easy to do, but I would have had a guilty conscience for contributing to the overburden landfills.

I am now a vigilante, I’ve searched the web, come up with some terrific links, learned that many organizations, including other companies like Sony, eBay, Dell and Staples – to name just a few – have programs to take your old electronics.  And, some will take that old lamp and broken toaster!

Check out some of our EPA e-cycling resources: http://www.epa.gov/epawaste/conserve/materials/ecycling/donate.htm.

http://www.epa.gov/epawaste/conserve/materials/ecycling/live.htm

About the Author: Linda started her career with EPA in 1998 working in the water quality program. For the past 7 years she’s helped regulated facilities understand how to be in compliance with EPA enforcement requirements. Outside of work Linda enjoys exploring neighborhoods of NYC, photographing people in their everyday world, and sewing handbags made from recycled materials that she gives to her friends.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Giving New Life to Old Containers | Bottle Recycling Edition

By Elizabeth Myer

Promoting recycling initiatives never gets old to me. Just last week, I blogged about the importance (and ease of) eCycling, and today, I’m back for more. I recently heard about TerraCycle’s Brigade® initiative to offer National collection programs for previously non-recyclable (or difficult to recycle) waste. TerraCycle has a full list of Brigades that range from recycling candy and gum packaging to scotch tape and writing utensil repurposing. TerraCycle makes doing the right thing simple by offering mostly free shipping as well as a donation to a non-profit organization or school of your choice in exchange for each piece of garbage collected in any of the waste streams listed on their site. 

Here’s an example everyone can relate to. Next time you run out of a personal care product such as shampoo or conditioner, save the packaging and follow these easy steps:

  • Fill a box/bag with your personal care or beauty product containers. Remember to reuse a shipping box or bag and use eco-friendly padding.
  • Download a pre-paid shipping label from terracycle.com. To acquire a pre-paid label, log in to your TerraCycle account online (signing up and participating is completely free), and click “SHIP US YOUR WASTE”. You can print them out yourself or request that TerraCycle send the label.
  • Ship the box to TerraCycle by affixing the pre-paid postage label to the box/bag and dropping it off at a UPS location.

Make sure to check out the main page for acceptable donations.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

eCycling: the Future is NOW!

By Elizabeth Myer

A few years back, Greening the Apple blogger Sophia Kelley and I worked with the EPA on a series of Electronics Recycling (eCycling) initiatives. eCycling, for those not familiar with the term, is the process of reclaiming electronics from the waste stream, either as whole units ready to be re-used by another consumer, or as parts for materials recovery. I won’t speak for Sophia, but I first became a personal advocate for promoting proper eCycling practices in 2009 when EPA partnered with the band O.A.R. for their Green Dream recycling tour. In October of that year, EPA and the College Music Journal (CMJ) got together during the epic annual CMJ Music Marathon. CMJ went “green” and we helped by setting up shop in their exhibition room with a box for recycling used and unwanted cell phones, cameras, chargers and other electronics. We even went on to record a podcast on the subject!

E-waste on the banks of the Hackensack River (EPA photo)

So why, after all this time, is eCycling still an issue that I feel the need to explore? Perhaps because so many people are still clueless about how serious and widespread this issue is. The desire shared by many Americans to constantly upgrade to the latest cell phone/iProduct/tablet has contributed to a scary reality: electronic waste (e-waste) is growing 2-3 times faster than any other waste stream! Why should that concern you? For one, electronic devices are often composed of materials (lead, nickel, cadmium, and mercury) that could pose risks to the environment and human health if not disposed of properly. Another great reason to donate your used electronics (so long as they still work) is for the benefit of others who may not be able to afford them otherwise.                   

A colleague recently reminded me of an episode of 30 Rock which mocked the reality that New Yorkers often have drawers and closets stuffed with old, unwanted electronics. The segment indicates that many people know that e-waste is bad, but they have no clue where or how to dispose of their old chargers, laptops, cell phones, etc.  EPA has an eCycling locator, complete with links to external sites (like Earth 911) with great resources for finding eCycling centers near your home.

A final tip: don’t forget to erase all personal and confidential data on the old equipment before sending it for recycling or reuse. Happy eCycling!

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Trade, Baby, Trade

By Lucy Casella

It was a struggle to get our relatives in Pennsylvania to recycle their PC and monitor.

“We’ve got plenty of landfill space in state, and besides, we would have to drive to Staples and pay $10 to recycle them,” they argued.

My husband and I both work for environmental agencies, but they were unmoved by our “responsible recycling” arguments. They even refused our $10 “bribe.”

No surprise then that we found ourselves transporting electronics 350 miles back home from the Keystone State!

After this flush of green virtue, practical considerations intruded: our community didn’t have electronics recycling, we lived 30 miles from the closest Staples and we commute via train.

Fortunately, we found Costco’s elegantly simple mail-in electronics trade-in program. All I had to do was type model information into Costco’s recycling website. If the units had market value, I could ship them free – AND receive a Costco cash card. Since these units had no value, I downloaded a prepaid shipping label and deposited the electronics at a UPS pick-up location four miles away.

At the time of this PC intervention, challenges to recycling included consumer confusion, minimal recycling networks, and few manufacturer take-back programs. The proliferation of cell phones since then has me wondering how many are recycled today.

According to EPA, only about 10 percent of cell phones are recycled. If Americans recycled the roughly 130 million cell phones disposed of annually, the energy saved would power more than 24,000 homes.

Also, many organizations look for cell phones for soldiers and victims of domestic abuse, among others. Many will send you a free mailing label.

As to manufacturer take-back programs, we’ve come a long way, baby: http://epa.gov/osw/partnerships/plugin/partners.htm

In a non-scientific experiment, last week I tested the state of the trade-in market for my Samsung cell phone and Canon camera.

I learned:

  • Costco and Samsung would provide prepaid shipping labels for these “no-value” items;
  • Gazelle (a national recycler) would ship electronics items with value for free;
  • Canon would charge $6 to recycle the camera;
  • Best Buy would ship both for free – AND give me a $24 gift card for the camera. Plus, I could drop them off at any Best Buy.

So look in your closets, do your homework, and decide whether to donate or trade-in your electronics. As for me, I’ll keep the phone and camera – and wouldn’t trade my family for the world!

About the author:  Lucy Casella is a somewhat technologically-challenged neo-Luddite and Strategic Planner in Region 1.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.